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caption: Shelly Kuntz, left, and August Kuntz, right, a kindergarten student at Northgate Elementary School, walk together while holding hands on Monday, April 5, 2021, on the first day of in-person learning at the school in Seattle.
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Shelly Kuntz, left, and August Kuntz, right, a kindergarten student at Northgate Elementary School, walk together while holding hands on Monday, April 5, 2021, on the first day of in-person learning at the school in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Here's what back-to-school will look like in Seattle

Face masks and three feet of distance: The first day of school is going to look a little different for Seattle Public School students this year.

KUOW's Kate Walters gave Seattle Now the rundown on what students and families can expect on the first day of full-time, in-person learning since the start of the pandemic.

Your back to school questions, answered

What does the school schedule look like this year in Seattle?

It's back to five full-time days of learning for Seattle students this year. There's no hybrid option this year for Seattle Public School students, but there is a small virtual learning program for grades K-5. That program is full, and there is a waitlist.

What about social distancing protocols?

The plan is to keep students three feet apart in classrooms, and six feet in more high volume areas like hallways and cafeterias. But kids will be kids, so that might take a little enforcement.

What's the mask policy?

If people abide by the rules, everyone will be wearing a mask everywhere you look: teachers, students, staff, visitors, coaches, bus drivers...they should have a mask on.

How does the vaccine mandate for school employees work?

All school employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by October 18. There are some exemptions for medical and religious reasons, but employees don't have the option to get regularly tested for Covid instead of getting vaccinated.

Is there a vaccine mandate for kids?

For right now, no. But several health officials here in Washington state say that there should be a mandate, and it could be required in the future.

If students are expected to wear a mask at school, what's lunchtime going to look like?

Schools are trying to make sure students are distanced at lunch and not facing each other. Kids will also be expected to pull their mask back up after every bite. Some parents are pushing for outdoor lunches, but not every school has the space or resources to hold lunches outside.

Are there virtual learning options?

There is a small virtual learning pilot program for K-5 students, but that program is full. Families can sign up for a waitlist. There's no hybrid option this year like there was last year.

Seattle Public Schools have identified alternative online learning options that are state approved and free for SPS students. But if a student disenrolls from SPS they won't be guaranteed a spot at their option school next year.

Many parents are concerned about the lack of virtual options and are calling on the district to do more.

What happens if a student gets Covid-19?

Students who exhibit Covid-19 symptoms while at school will be sent to a designated health room and their parents or guardians will be called. SPS is also providing testing for students and staff.

Covid-19 cases will be reported to Public Health - Seattle and King County. Families will be notified if there's a confirmed case in their child's classroom, or if their child has been exposed to someone who has tested positive in common areas, like the bus or cafeteria.

If a student needs to quarantine, SPS says their teachers will support them to continue their learning.

If there's an outbreak, the district will work with public health officials to determine if a classroom or school needs to be closed. If a class or school is closed students will shift to 100 percent virtual.

Why go back in person?

Many parents are nervous about the return to in-person learning, especially with the rise of the delta variant.

Proponents of returning to classrooms say one big upside is the mental health benefits for students.